ELIZABETH HANSON (1684-1737). GOD'S MERCY SURMOUNTING MAN'S CRUELTY, EXEMPLIFIED IN THE CAPTIVITY AND SURPRISING DELIVERANCE OF ELIZABETH HANSON, WIFE OF JOHN HANSON, OF KNOXMARSH, AT KECHEACHY, IN DOVER TOWNSHIP, WHO WAS TAKEN CAPTIVE WITH HER CHILDREN AND MAID-SERVANT, BY THE INDIANS IN NEW ENGLAND, IN THE YEAR 1724.
As soon as the Indians discovered themselves, (having, as we afterwards understood, been skulking in the fields some days, watching their opportunity, when my dear husband, with the rest of our men, were gone out of the way,) two of them came in upon us, and then eleven more, all naked, with their guns and tomahawks, and in a great fury killed one child immediately, as soon as they entered the door, thinking thereby to strike in us the greater terror, and to make us more fearful of them. After which, in like fury, the captain came up to me; but at my request he gave me quarter. There were with me our servant and six of our children; two of the little ones being at play about the orchard, and my youngest child, but fourteen days old, whether in cradle or arms, I now remember not. Being in this condition, I was very unfit for the hardships I after met with, which I shall endeavor briefly to relate.
They went to rifling the house in a great hurry, (fearing, as I suppose, a surprise from our people, it being late in the afternoon,) and packed up some linen, woollen and what other thing's pleased them best, and when they had done what they would, they turned out of the house immediately; and while they were at the door, two of my younger children, one six, and the other four years old, came in sight, and being under a great surprise, cried aloud, upon which one of the Indians running to them, took them under the arms, and brought them to us. My maid prevailed with the biggest to be quiet and still; but the other could by no means be prevailed with, but continued shrieking and crying very much, and the Indians, to ease themselves of the noise, and to prevent the danger of a discovery that might arise from it, immediately, before my face, knocked his brains out. I bore this as well as I could, not daring to appear disturbed or to show much uneasiness, lest they should do the same to the others; but should have been exceeding glad if they had kept out of sight until we had gone from the house.
Now having killed two of my children, they scalped them, (practice common with these people, which is, whenever they kiU any enemies, they cut the skin off from the crown of ...heads, and carry it with them for a testimony and evidence that they have killed so many, receiving sometimes a reward for every scalp,) and then put forward to leave the house in great haste, without doing any other spoil than taking what they had packed together, with myself and little babe, fourteen days old, the boy six years, and two daughters, the one about fourteen and the other about sixteen years, with my servant girl.
It must be considered, that I having lain in but fourteen days, and being but very tender and weakly, and removed now out of a good room, well accommodated with fire, bedding, and other things suiting a person in my condition, it made these hardships to me greater than if I had been in a strong and healthy frame; yet, for all this, I must go or die. There was no resistance.
In this condition aforesaid we left the house, each Indian having something; and I with my babe and three children that could go of themselves. The captain, though he had as great a load as he could well carry, and was helped up with it, did, for all that, carry my babe for me in his arms, which I took to be a favor from him. Thus we went through several swamps and some brooks, they carefully avoiding all paths of any track like a road, lest by our footsteps we should be followed.
We got that night, I suppose, not quite ten miles from our house in a direct line ; then taking up their quarters, lighted a fire, some of them lying down, while others kept watch. I being both wet and weary, and lying on the cold ground in the open woods, took but little rest.
However, early in the morning, we must go just as the day appeared, travelling very hard all that day through sundry rivers, brooks and swamps, they, as before, carefully avoiding all paths for the reason already assigned. At night, I was both wet and tired exceedingly; having the same lodging on the cold ground, in the open woods. Thus, for twenty-six days, day by day we travelled very hard, sometimes a little by water, over lakes and ponds; and in this journey we went up some high mountains, so steep that I was forced to creep up on my hands and knees; under which difficulty, the Indian, my master, would mostly carry my babe for me, which I took as a great favor of God, that his heart was so tenderly inclined to assist me, though he had, as it is said, a very heavy burden of his own; nay, he would sometimes take my very blanket, so that I had nothing to do but to take my little boy by the hand for his help, and assist him as well as I could, taking him up in my arms a little at times, because so small; and when we came to very bad places, he would lend me his hand, or coming behind, would push me before him; in all which, he showed some humanity and civility, more than I could have expected: for which privilege I was secretly thankful to God, as the moving cause thereof.
Next to this we had some very great runs of water and brooks to wade through, in which at times we met with much difficulty, wading often to our middles, and sometimes our girls were up to their shoulders and chins, the Indians carrying my boy on their shoulders. At the side of one of these runs or rivers, the Indians would have my eldest daughter, Sarah, to sing them a song. Then was brought into her remembrance that passage in the 137th Psalm, " By the rivers of Babylon," When my poor child had given me this account, it was very affecting, and my heart was very full of trouble, yet on my child's account I was glad that she had so good an inclination, which she yet further manifested in longing for a Bible, that we might have the comfort of reading the holy text at vacant times, for our spiritual comfort under our present affliction.
Next to the difficulties of the rivers, were the prodigious swamps and thickets, very difficult to pass through, in which places my master would sometimes lead me by the hand, a great way together, and give me what help he was capable of, under the straits we went through; and we, passing, one after another, the first made it pretty passable for the hindmost.
But the greatest difficulty, that deserves the first to be named, was want of food, having at times nothing to eat hut pieces of old heaver-skin match-coats, which the Indians having hid, (for they came naked as is said before,) which in their going back again they took with them, and they were used more for food than raiment. Being cut into long narrow straps, they gave us little pieces, which by the Indians' example we laid on the fire until the hair was singed away, and then we ate them as a sweet morsel, experimentally knowing " that to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet."
It is to he considered further, that of this poor diet we had but very scanty allowance; so that we were in no danger of being overcharged. But that which added to my trouble, was the complaints of my poor children, especially the little boy. Sometimes the Indians would catch a squirrel or beaver, and at other times we met with nuts, berries, and roots which they digged out of the ground, with the bark of some trees; but we had no corn for a great while together, though some of the younger Indians went back and brought some corn from the English inhabitants, (the harvest not being gathered,) of which we had ft Utile allowed us. But when they caught a beaver, we lived high while it lasted; they allowed me the guts and garbage for myself and children; but not allowing us to clean and wash them, as they ought, made the food very irksome to us to feed upon, and nothing besides pinching hunger could have made it any way tolerable to be borne.
The next difficulty was no less hard to me; for my daily travel and hard living made my milk dry almost quite up, and how to preserve my poor babe's life was no small care on my mind; having no other sustenance for her, many times, but cold water, which I took in my mouth, and let it fall on my breast, when I gave her the teat to suck in, with what it could get from the breast; and when I had any of the broth of the beaver's guts, or other guts, I fed my babe with it, and as well as I could I preserved her life until I got to Canada, and then I had some other food, of which, more in its place.
Having by this time got considerably on the way, the Indians parted, and we were divided amongst them. This was a sore grief to us all; but we must submit, and no way to help ourselves. My eldest daughter was first taken away, and carried to another part of the country, far distant from us, where for the present we must take leave of her, though with a heavy heart.
We did not travel far after this, before they divided again, taking my second daughter and servant maid from me, into another part of the country. So, I having now only my babe at mv breast, and little boy six years old, we remained with the captain still. But my daughter and servant underwent great hardships after they were parted from me, travelling three days without any food, taking nothing for support but cold water; and the third day, what with the cold, the wet, and hunger, the servant fell down as dead in a swoon, being both very cold and wet, at which the Indians, with whom they were, were surprised, showing some kind of tenderness, being unwilling then to lose them by death, having got them so near home ; hoping, if they lived, by their ransom to make considerable profit of them.
In a few days after this, they got near their journey's end, where they had more plenty of corn, and other food. But flesh often fell very short, having no other way to depend on for it but hunting; and when that failed, they had very short commons. It was not long ere my daughter and servant were likewise parted, and my daughter's master being sick, was not able to hunt for flesh; neither had they any corn in that place, but were forced to eat bark of trees for a whole week.
Being almost famished in this distress, Providence so ordered that some other Indians, hearing of their misery, came to visit them, (these people being very kind and helpful to one another, which is very commendable,) and brought to them the guts and liver of a beaver, which afforded them a good repast, being but four in number, the Indian, his wife and daughter, and my daughter.
By this time my master and our company got to our journey's end, where we were better fed at times, having some corn and venison, and wild fowl, or what they could catch by hunting in the woods; and my master having a large family, fifteen in number, we had at times very short commons, moie especially when game was scarce.
But here our lodging was still on the cold ground, in a poor wigwam, (which is a kind of little shelter made with the rind of trees, and mats for a covering, something like a tent.) These are so easily set up and taken down, that they often remove them from one place to another. Our shoes and stockings, and our other clothes, being worn out in this long journey through the bushes and swamps, and the weather coming in very hard, we were poorly defended from the cold, for want of necessaries ; which caused one of my feet, one of the little babe's, and both of the little boy's, to freeze; and this was no small exercise, yet, through mercy, we all did well.
Now, though we got to our journey's end, we were never long in one place, hut very oftin removed from one place to another, carrying our wigwams with us, which we could do without much difficulty. This, being for the convenience of hunting, made our accommodations much more unpleasant, than if we had continued in one place, by reason the coldness and dampness of the ground, where our wigwams were pitched, made it very unwholesome, and unpleasant lodging.
Having now got to the Indian fort, many of the Indians came to visit us, and in their way welcomed my master home, and held a great rejoicing, with dancing, firing of guns, beating on hollow trees, instead of drums; shouting, drinking, and feasting after their manner, in much excess, for several days together, which I suppose, in their thoughts, was a kind of thanks to God, put up for their safe return and good success. But while they were in their jollity and mirth, my mind was greatly exercised towards the Lord, that I, with my dear children, separated from me, might be preserved from repining against God under our affliction on the one hand, and on the other we might have our dependence on him, who rules the hearts of men, and can do what he pleases in the kingdoms of the earth, knowing that his care is over them who put their trust in him; but I found it very hard to keep my mind as I ought, in the resignation which is proper it should be, under such afflictions and sore trials as at that time I suffered in being under various fears and doubts concerning my children, that were separated from me, which helped to add to and greatly increase my troubles. And here I may truly say, my afflictions are not to be set forth in words to the extent of them.
We had not been long at home ere my master went a hunting, and was absent about a week, he ordering me in his absence to get in wood, gather nuts, &c. I was very diligent cutting the wood and putting it in order, not having very far to carry it. But when he returned, having got no prey, he was very much out of humor, and the disappointment was so great that he could not forbear revenging it on us poor captives. However, he allowed me a little boiled corn for myself and child, but with a very angry look threw a stick or corn cob at me with such violence as did bespeak he grudged our eating. At this his squaw and daughter broke out into a great crying. This made me fear mischief was hatching against us. I immediately went out of his presence into another wigwam; upon which he came after me, and in a great fury tore my blanket off my back, and took my little boy from me, and struck him down as he went along before him; but the poor child not being hurt, only frightened in the fall, started up and ran away without crying. Then the Indian, my master, left me; but his wife's mother came and sat down by me, and told me I must sleep there that night. She then going from me a little time, came back with a small skin to cover my feet withal, informing me that my master intended now to kill us, and I, being desirous to know the reason, expostulated, that in his absence I had been diligent to do as I was ordered by him. Thus as well as I could I made her sensible how unreasonable he was. Now, though she could not understand me, nor I her, but by signs, we reasoned as well as we could. She therefore made signs that I must die, advising me, by pointing up with her fingers, in her way, to pray to God, endeavoring by her signs and tears to instruct me in that which was most needful, viz. to prepare for death, which now threatened me : the poor old squaw was so very kind and tender, that she would not leave me all the night, but laid herself down at my feet, designing what she could to assuage her son-in-law's wrath, who had conceived evil against me, chiefly, as I understood, because the want of victuals urged him to it. My rest was little this night, my poor babe sleeping sweetly by me.
I dreaded the tragical design of my master, looking every hour for his coming to execute his bloody will upon us, but he being weary with hunting and travel in the woods, having toiled for nothing, went to rest and forgot it. Next morning he applied himself again to hunting in the woods, but I dreaded his returning empty, and prayed secretly in my heart that he might catch some food to satisfy his hunger, and cool his ill humor. He had not been gone but a little time, when he returned with booty, having shot some wild ducks; and now he appeared in a better temper, ordered the fowls to be dressed with speed; for these kind of people, when they have plenty, spend it as freely as they get it, using with gluttony and drunkenness, in two days' time, as much as with prudent management might serve a week. Thus do they live for the most part, either in excess of gluttony and drunkenness, or under great straits of want of necessaries. However, in this plentiful time, I felt the comfort of it in part with the family; having a portion sent for me and my little ones, which was very acceptable. Now, I thinking the bitterness of death was over for this time, my spirits were a little easier.
Not long after this he got into the like ill humor again, threatening to take away my life. But I always observed whenever he was in such a temper, he wanted food, and was pinched with hunger. Rut when he had success in hunting, to take either bears, bucks, or fowls, on which he could fill his belly, he was better humored, though he was naturally of a very hot and passionate temper, throwing sticks, stones, or whatever lay in his way, on every slight occasion. This made me in continual danger of my life ; but God, whose providence is over all his works, so preserved me that I never received any damage from him, that was of any great consequence to me; for which I ever desire to be thankful to my Maker.
When flesh was scarce we had only the guts and garbage allowed to our part; and not being permitted to cleanse the guts any other wise than emptying the dung, without so much as washing them, as before is noted ; in that filthy pickle we must boil them and eat them, which was very unpleasant. But hunger made up that difficulty, so that this food, which was very often our lot, became pretty tolerable to a sharp appetite, which otherwise could not have been dispensed with. Thus I considered, none knows what they can undergo until they are tried; for what I had thought in my own family not fit for food, would here have been a dainty dish and sweet morsel.
By this time, what with fatigue of spirits, hard labor, mean diet, and often want of natural rest, I was brought so low, that my milk was dried up, my babe very poor and weak, just skin and bones; for I could perceive all her joints from one end of the back to the other, and how to get what would suit her weak appetite, I was at a loss ; on which one of the Indian squaws, perceiving my uneasiness about my child, began some discourse with me, in which she advised me to take the kernels of walnuts, clean them and beat them with a little water, which I did and when I had so done the water looked like milk; then she advised me to add to this water a little of the finest of Indian corn meal, and boil it a little together. I did so, and it became palatable, and was very nourishing to the babe, so that she began to thrive and look well, who was before more like to die than live. I found that with this kind of diet the Indians did often nurse their infants. This was no small comfort. to me ; but this comfort was soon mixed with bitterness and trouble, which thus happened: my master taking notice of my dear babe's 'thriving condition, would often look upon her and say when she was fat enough she would be killed, and he would eat her; and pursuant to his pretence, at a certain time, he made me fetch him a stick that he had prepared for a spit to roast the child upon, as he said, which when I had done he made me sit down by him and undress the infant. When the child was naked he felt her arms, legs, and thighs, and told me she was not fat enough yet; I must dress her again until she was better in case.
Now, though he thus acted, I could not persuade myself that he intended to do as he pretended, but only to aggravate and afflict me; neither ever could I think but our lives would be preserved from his barbarous hands, by the overruling power of Him in whose providence I put iny trust both day and night.
A little time after this, my master fell sick, and in his sickness, as he lay in his wigwam, he ordered his own son to beat my son; but the old squaw, the Indian boy's grandmother, would not suffer him to do it: then his father, being provoked, caught up a stick, very sharp at one end, and with great violence threw it from him at my son, and hit him on the breast, with which my child was much bruised, and the pain with the surprise made him turn as pale as death; I entreating him not to cry, and the boy, though but six years old, bore it with wonderful patience, not so much as in the least complaining, so that the child's patience assuaged the barbarity of his heart: who, no doubt, would have carried his passion and resentment much higher, had the child cried, as always complaining did aggravate his passion, and his anger grew hotter upon it. Some little time after, on the same day, he got upon his feet, but far from being well. However, though he was sick, his wife and daughter let me know he intended to kill us, and I was under a fear, unless providence now interposed, how it would end. I therefore put down my child, and going out of his presence, went to cut wood for the fire as I used to do, hoping that would in part allay his passion; but withal, ere I came to the wigwam again, I expected my child would be killed in this mad fit, having no other way but to cast my care upon God, who had hitherto helped and cared for me and mine.
Under this great feud, the old squaw, my master's mother-in-law, left him, but my mistress and her daughter abode in the wigwam with my master, and when I came with my wood, the daughter came to me, whom I asked if her father had killed my child, and she made me a sign, no, with a countenance that seemed pleased it was so ; for instead of his further venting his passion on me and my children, the Lord in whom I trusted did seasonably interpose, and I took it as a merciful deliverance from him, and the Indian was under some sense of the same, as himself did confess to them about him afterwards.
Thus it was, a little after he got upon his feet, the Lord struck him with great sickness, and a violent pain, as appeared by the complaint he made in a doleful and hideous manner; which when I understood, not having yet seen him, I went to another squaw, that was come to see my master, which could both speak and understand English, and inquired of her if my mistress (for so I always called her, and him master) Jhought that master would die. She answered yes, it was very likely he would, being worse and worse. Then I told her he struck my boy a dreadful blow without any provocation at all, and had threatened to kill us all in his fury and passion, upon which the squaw told me my master had confessed the above abuse he offered my child, and that the mischief he had done was the cause why God afflicted him with that sickness and pain, and he had promised never to abuse us in such sort more: and after this he soon recovered, but was not so passionate ; nor do I remember he ever after struck either me or my children, so as to hurt us, or with that mischievous intent as before he used to do. This I took as the Lord's doing, and it was marvellous in my eyes.
Some few weeks after this, my master made another remove, having as before made several; but this was the longest ever he made, it being two days' journey, and mostly upon ice. The first day's journey the ice was bare, but the next day, some snow falling, made it very troublesome, tedious, and difficult travelling; and I took much damage in often falling; having the care of my babe, that added not a little to my uneasiness. And the last night when we came to encamp, it being in the night, I was ordered to fetch water; but having sat awhile on the cold ground, I could neither go nor stand; but crawling on my hands and knees, a young Indian squaw came to see our people, being of another family, in compassion took the kettle, and knowing where to go, which I did not, fetched the water for me. This I took as a great kindness and favor, that her heart was inclined to do me this service.
I now saw the design of this journey. My master being, as I suppose, weary to keep us, was willing to make what he could of our ransom; therefore, he went further towards the French, and left his family in this place, where they had a great dance, sundry other Indians coming to our people. This held some time, and while they were in it, I got out of their way in a corner of the wigwam as well as I could; but every time they came by me in their dancing, they would bow my head towards the ground, and frequently kick me with as great fury as they could bear, being sundry of them barefoot, and others having Indian mockosons. This dance held some time, and they made, in their manner, great rejoicings and noise.
It was not many days ere my master returned from the French; but he was in such a humor when he came back, he would not suffer me in his presence. Therefore I had a little shelter made with some boughs, they having digged through the snow to the ground, it being pretty deep. In this hole I and my poor children were put to lodge; the weather being very sharp, with hard frost, in the month called January, made it more tedious to me and my children. Our stay was not long in this place before he took me to the French, in order for a chapman. When we came among them I was exposed for sale, and he asked for me 800 livres. But his chapman not complying with his demand, put him in a great rage, offering him but GOO; he said, in a great passion, if he could not have his demand, he would make a great fire and burn me and the babe, in the view of the town,. which was named Fort Royal. The Frenchman bid the Indian make his fire, " and I will," says he, " help you, if you think that will do you more good than 600 livres," calling my master fool, and speaking roughly to him, bid him be gone. But at the same time the Frenchman was civil to me; and, for my encouragement, bid me be of good cheer, for I should be redeemed, and not go back with them again.
Retiring now with my master for this night, the next day I was redeemed for six hundred livres; and in treating with my master, the Frenchman queried why he asked so much for the child's ransom; urging, when she had her belly full, she would die. My master said, " No, she would not die, having already lived twenty-six days on nothing but water, believing the child to be a devil." The Frenchman told him, " No, the child is ordered for longer life; and it has pleased God to preserve her to admiration." My master said no, she was a devil, and he believed she would not die, unless they took a hatchet and beat her brains out. Thus ended their discourse, and I was, as aforesaid, with my babe, ransomed for six hundred livres; my little boy, likewise, at the same time, for an additional sum of livres, was redeemed also.
I now having changed my landlord, my table and diet, as well as my lodging, the French were civil beyond what I could either desire or expect. But the next day after I was redeemed, the Romish priest took my babe from me, and according to their custom, they baptized her, urging if she died before that she would be damned, like some of our modern pretended reformed priests, and they gave her a name as pleased them best, which was Mary Ann Frossways, telling me my child, if she now died, would be saved, being baptized ; and my landlord speaking to the priest that baptized her, said, " It would be well, now Frossways was baptized, for her to die, being now in a state to be saved," but the priest said, " No, the child having been so miraculously preserved through so many hardships, she may be designed by God for some great work, and by her life being still continued, may much more glorify God than if she should now die." A very sensible remark, and I wish it may prove true.
I having been about five months amongst the Indians in about one month after I got amongst the French, my dear husband, to my unspeakable comfort and joy, came to me, who was now himself concerned to redeem his children, two of our daughters being still captives, and only myself and two little ones redeemed; and, through great difficulty and trouble, he recovered the younger daughter. But the eldest we could by no means obtain from their hands, for the squaw, to whom she was given, had a son whom she intended my daughter should in time be prevailed with to marry. The Indians are very civil towards their captive women, not offering any incivility by any indecent carriage, (unless they be much overcome in liquor,) which is commendable in them, so far.
However, the affections they had for my daughter made them refuse all offers and terms of ransom; so that, after my poor husband had waited, and made what attempts and endeavors he could to obtain his child, and all to no purpose, we were forced to make homeward, leaving our daughter, to our great grief, behind us, amongst the Indians, and set forward over the lake, with three of our children, and the servant maid, in company with sundry others, and, by the kindness of Providence, we got well home on the 1st day of the 7th month, 1725. From which it appears I had been from home, amongst the Indians and French, about twelve months and six days.
In the series of which time, the many deliverances and wonderful providences of God unto us, and over us, hath been, and I hope will so remain to be, as a continued obligation on my mind, ever to live in that fear, love, and obedience to God, duly regarding, by his grace, with meekness and wisdom, to approve myself by his spirit, in all holiness of life and godliness of conversation, to the praise of him that hath called me, who is God blessed forever.
But my dear husband, poor man! could not enjoy himself in quiet with us, for want of his dear daughter Sarah, that was left behind; and not willing to omit anything for her redemption which lay in his power, he could not be easy without making a second attempt; in order to which, he took his journey about the 19th day of the second month, 1727, in company with a kinsman and his wife, who went to redeem some of their children, and were so happy as to obtain what they went about. But my dear husband being taken sick on the way, grew worse and worse, as we were informed, and was sensible he should not get over it; telling my kinsman that if it was the Lord's will he must die in the wilderness, he was freely given up to it. He was under a good composure of mind, and sensible to his last moment, and died, as near as we can judge, in about the half way between Albany and Canada, in my kinsman's arms, and is at rest, I hope, in the Lord: and though my own children's loss is very great, yet I doubt not but his gain is much more; I therefore desire and pray, that the Lord will enable me patiently to submit to his will in all things he is pleased to suffer to be my lot, while here, earnestly supplicating the God and father of all our mercies to be a father to my fatherless children, and give unto them that blessing, which maketh truly rich, and adds no sorrow with it; that as they grow in years they may grow in grace, and experience the joy of salvation, which is come by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Now, though my husband died, by reason of which his labor was ended, yet my kinsman prosecuted the thing, and left no stone unturned, that he thought, or could be advised, wa3 proper to the obtaining my daughter's freedom; but could by no means prevail; for, as is before said, she being in another part of the country distant from where I was, and given to an old squaw, who intended to marry her in time to her son, using what persuasion she could to effect her end, sometimes by fair means, and sometimes by severe.
In the mean time a Frenchman interposed, and they by persuasions enticing my child to marry, in order to obtain her freedom, by reason that those captives married by the French are, by that marriage, made free among them, the Indians having then no pretence longer to keep them as captives; she therefore was prevailed upon, for the reasons afore assigned, to marry, and she was accordingly married to the said French' man.
Thus, as well, and as near as I can from my memory, (not being capable of keeping a journal,) I have given a short but a tine account of some of the remarkable trials and wonderful deliverances which I never purposed to expose; but that I hope thereby the merciful kindness and goodness of God may be magnified, and the reader hereof pro.voked with more care and fear to serve him in righteousness and humility, and then mv designed end and purpose will be answered. E. H.